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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will depart for China this evening on an official visit whose main purpose will be to further efforts to counter Iran's nuclear program.

During his meetings with China's President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Olmert will express Israel's appreciation of Beijing's support for a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for sanctions against Iran.

Olmert will express Israel's view that while UN Resolution 1731 is an important step in blocking Iran's nuclear program, it is insufficient.

In an interview to a Chinese media outlet in preparation of his visit, Olmert said that Iran's development of nuclear weapons is contrary to Chinese interests, "and proof of that [realization] is the Security Council vote. We see eye to eye," on the issue.

China has sought a "balanced policy" on Iran's nuclear program, and prior to Olmert's visit hosted Ali Larijani, head of Iran's National Security Council and the leading figure in talks with the West on nuclear matters.

According to an official Chinese statement, President Hu told the visiting Iranian official that Tehran should "respond seriously" to the Security Council resolution, which called on Iran to cease enriching uranium or face sanctions.

Hu reiterated the Chinese position that the crisis with Iran must be resolved through "diplomatic means."

For his part, Larijani warned that Iran may develop a military nuclear program "if it is threatened."

"We believe the Chinese," political sources in Jerusalem said, "when they say they are opposed to a nuclear-armed Iran. But China has a traditional stance that opposes sanctions, and thus prefers a diplomatic solution."

In countering Iran, China opted to go along the route fashioned by Russia, in delaying and softening the sanctions, avoiding a leading role in international meetings on the issue.

China imports approximately 12 percent of its energy needs from Iran, and has close ties with Tehran.

This will be the fifth and final permanent member of the Security Council Olmert will visit in his international efforts to stem the development of the Iranian nuclear program.

The political sources in Jerusalem stress the economic and growing international importance of China and say that in spite of a number of crises, having to do with Israeli contracts to furnish Beijing with defense technologies - vetoed by the United States - bilateral relations remain "excellent."

In the past 18 months, high-level delegations from China visited Israel, in great part driven by interest in civilian technologies available here. Agriculture is a field in which Israeli scientists and entrepreneurs have met with great success in China, and Olmert is scheduled to pay a visit to a model farm set up by Israelis near Beijing.

The prime minister will also visit the Wall and the Forbidden City in the Chinese capital.

Olmert will announce that Israel plans to open a consulate in the province of Guangzhou, which is home to high-tech parks.

Chinese officials recently expressed their wish to double bilateral trade, currently standing at $3 billion, in four or five years.